Analysing the emission gap between pledged emission reductions under the Cancún Agreements and the 2 °C climate target

Since the climate negotiations in Copenhagen (2009), many countries have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. These pledges were 'anchored' in the 2010 Cancún Agreements. Since the Cancún climate negotiations, developing countries have published new information about their business-as-usual emission projections . These – upward – projections have led to higher expected emission levels from the pledges, and have increased the emission gap towards achieving the 2 degree Celsius climate goal.

The United Nations climate negotiations in Cancún (2010) and earlier in Copenhagen (2009), called for urgent action to limit global warming to 2 degree Celsius. In order to reach this climate goal, 42 industrialised countries submitted quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets for 2020, and 45 developing countries submitted nationally appropriate mitigation actions. All these pledges have been anchored in the Cancún Agreements. Since the negotiations in Cancún, developing countries have provided additional information, especially on projected emission levels without climate policy (business-as-usual emissions).

This report, conducted at the request of the European Commission and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, analyses the effect of the pledges submitted by Parties in the Cancún Agreements on the emission gap, taking into account all the new information available. It pays specific attention to uncertainties and risks and provides a detailed description of the emission implications of the pledges and actions by the 12 largest emitting countries and regions.

Higher expected greenhouse gas emissions from pledges

Upward revisions of business-as-usual emission projections of developing countries have led to higher emission levels expected from pledges by developing countries. To have a likely chance of limiting global warming to 2 degree Celsius, the 2020 global emission gap could be about 5 to 9 gigaton (billion metric tons) CO2 equivalent, which is 2.5 gigaton CO2 equivalent higher than in our earlier assessment (see more information). Several uncertainties, mainly related to accounting rules of surplus emissions and business-as-usual emission projections, together, could result in a global emission level close to that of the PBL The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency business-as-usual projections for 2020. A selected set of options could result in an additional emission reduction of 4.1 gigaton CO2 equivalent, which would narrow the emission gap towards achieving the 2 degree Celsius goal. A closer look at the individual pledges by the ten largest emitting economies reveals that the uncertainty regarding China’s pledge is very large and national business-as-usual emission projections of countries, generally, are much higher than the PBL business-as-usual emission projections.

More information


PBL Authors
Michel den Elzen Mark Roelfsema Andries Hof
Other authors
Hannes Böttcher
Giacomo Grassi


Publication title
Analysing the emission gap between pledged emission reductions under the Cancún Agreements and the 2 °C climate target
Publication date
30 April 2012
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